Ashley McBryde, known for her vivid storytelling songwriting, returns with the most unique and interesting record you’ll hear all year! ‘Lindeville’ which comes out at the end of September features an array of talented songwriters who all take a turn on the microphone too as they set the scene of ‘Lindeville’ and introduce us to a new character with each song. The project was a bit of fun, born out of a writing retreat as McBryde pulled some of her closest and most like minded friends together out in Tennessee.
McBryde, joining me over zoom from her tour bus, reflects on where the idea of Lindeville began. “Nicolette Hayford and Aaron Raitiere are writers here. I don’t remember what year it was, because the years get kind of fuzzy right now, but we’d just written a song called Blackout Betty which is my nickname when I’ve partied too hard. It’s very similar to Nicolette Hayford being Pillbox Patty, when she has partied too hard.” McBryde began to notice a pattern emerging as ‘Jesus Jenny’, ‘Shut Up Sheila’ and ‘Living Next to Leroy’ all written by one of the trio in the past focused upon a very different, but very real character. “Over the years without even meaning to, these characters have emerged. And they’re people that we have been at times, and they are people that we have experienced at times. And I thought we should give them neighbours and a place to live.”
McBryde went in search of some friends that would be willing to play in that kind of sandbox, just for fun, with no intention of ever releasing the songs that they came up with. The six writers, Ashley McBryde, Aaron Raitiere, Connie Harrington, Brandy Clark, Benjy Davis and
Nicolette Hayford, took themselves off for a writing retreat. “We went to this house somewhere in Tennessee. We locked ourselves in this really cool very strange house and wound up sitting at this kitchen table for like five or six days. We were this family, sitting at a kitchen table, putting a puzzle together and nobody wanted to get up. That kitchen table was really close to the refrigerator. So you’ve got your eye on a sketchpad, there’s laptops on the table, and there’s a Polaroid camera, and there’s coffee cups, and there’s tequila everywhere. I’m writing on this big Sketchpad, and then somebody would just put a sandwich down on your paper, and you would eat that quick and we’re scurrying to do the work, not dutifully, but because we were just having so much fun!”
One of the writers McBryde teamed up with shares her style of humorous storytelling and real life, vivid characters that are brought to life by the fine detail of the lyrics, that writer is Brandy Clark. “She’s such a beautiful human being in every single way possible. So when I text her to come in and write for this record, and she was in, that made me happy because she was at a retreat that we did when we wrote ‘Voodoo Doll’ and ‘Sparrow’, and all those songs that are just so important to my little heart.”
The record is punctuated with what sounds like radio jingles, advertising various businesses in ‘Lindeville’. “The jingles were written when we would go outside to smoke,” McBryde laughs. “The whole point is giving ourselves a break, let’s get up from the table, go have a cigarette but we’re just like, you know what would be dope, would be like, jingles for the pawnshop or the diner. Then when we wrote the funeral home, I was like, this is my favourite one! Those got written in two and a half minutes while we’re smoking that cigarette.”
A big part of each one of those adverts was the big purple dinosaur sign which ends each jingle. “When you’re in a small town, there’s always something, like a particular gas station or a particular shop or something that everybody kind of uses as a point of reference. So it was just funny to put it at Ronnie’s pawn shop first of all, like that’s hilarious. Why is there a purple dinosaur? We don’t know,” McBryde chuckles. “that’s the point of reference in town. It is so obnoxious and such a sore thumb that everybody just kind of says oh yeah when you get to the big purple dinosaur sign, it’s two miles past the big purple dinosaur. And you know the funeral home was across from the big purple dinosaur and the dandelion Diner is within eyesight of the big purple dinosaur.”
The story of this album is full of humour but there are heart wrenching moments dotted within the lyrics too. “Hopefully there’s a good balance of humour on this record. You’re not just laughing the whole time. I feel like they’re nice breaths – chuckles between sighs!” McBryde and Clark both dot humour throughout their songwriting and it’s used so effectively. “I use humour as a coping mechanism. It also really just tickles me, I entertain myself that I’m so humorous. So it’s fun, especially for this. It was important when you’ve got songs like ‘Play Ball’ and songs like ‘Gospel Night at the Strip Club’, I don’t know what’s in my throat, it feels like sawdust, or ‘Girl in the Picture’, which is tackling kind of a sad subject. I think those little moments of laughter are so necessary, not just in a record, but in my daily commentary.”
Still, at this point, it was all just for fun! “We had all of these songs and we’re all really happy with them, we’re all very tickled with them. I would love for you to hear the work tapes, because you can hear the sandwiches and scurrying around. I’m so glad that got to be created. I feel all of our characters have a place to live. But then I started playing the work tapes for people and people started losing it. It was just me and my friends playing together but people loved it.”
The natural step was to try and record the stories they had been telling. “Then I thought, well maybe we should do something more with it, we should maybe make some better demos or something when we’re, at least, not drunk. This all ends up in me sending it to John Osborne and asking him to produce it as a record, it takes on its own momentum to where all of a sudden, the record demands to be made.” The album was Ashley McBryde’s, but she’s not necessarily the dominant voice that you hear. “When it came time to record it, we could have done it, since it’s my record, with me singing all of the songs and the stories would hold up. But the way we made the decisions in writing the songs was only what felt good and what felt right. There were no shifts involved. So when I was cutting the record with John, he chose every single musician for very specific reasons. So I thought, I suppose it shouldn’t be me. In fact, I want to sing the jingles and I want to be the voice of Lindeville and that’s it.”
The other voices you hear include Brandy Clark, Nicolette Hayford, Caylee Hammack, Aaron Raitiere, Benjy Davis, and TJ Osborne. She explains how it all came together, “In the work tapes Aaron was singing ‘You were wearing a sparkly top’ – no one else is going to deliver that any better. ‘Gospel Night at the Strip Club’ – Benjy Davis – the way he speaks is so pleasing. I felt like ‘Play Ball’, the song by itself makes you grab your chest a little bit and I was really proud of that. So I wanted to pick a voice that really drove that home and made you want to call your parents. So I thought it’s got to be TJ Osborne. That guy could sing the word banjo over and over and it would be good. Caylee was a fun choice. We were getting ready to do all the final vocals and everything. And John said, I think we need another female character. And I said, I want to tell you who I’m thinking but I want to hear who you’re thinking first and I really hope it’s what I think it’s gonna be. He said, I was thinking Caylee Hammack and I already had my phone out!”
All of these writers share their work though and learn off each other by getting feed back on a daily basis, “We have some get togethers out at Miranda’s place where it’s a completely safe zone, we can play songs we’re working on or do nothing, it’s a really nice environment to be in. So I’ve been playing these work tapes for all these girls for probably a year. I call Caylee and she’s in straight away.”
The record begins with a punch, “I thought starting a record with the very first thing you hear is ‘Brenda Put Your Bra On’ like you just walked in the house and someone said put your bra on and grab cigarettes, you know something is happening. It could be good and it could be bad and you don’t know what it is but you definitely want to be in attendance.” From there, this whole story unfolds where we get introduced to each of these characters. “Then you’ve got ‘Jesus Jenny’ and then we find out that there’s a girl named Caroline that’s missing and then we’re laughing at these dogs who can talk and we’re laughing at the fact that Aaron Raitiere and Brandy Clark are singing a duet about wanting to cheat on their spouses and they’re advertising it in the newspaper and that’s how they’re going to find their affair partner. It’s gospel night and it’s the only instance you hear about church at all in Lindeville and it’s at a strip club, which is preposterous!” All the while she’s talking to me, McBryde is grinning and though this is our third or fourth time talking, I’ve never seen her so happy and excited as she is about telling me the story behind this record.
The album concludes with the title track and here, McBryde takes the lead vocal. “All of these things are happening until we get a fair dose of chaos and I thought what a nice way to remind our characters in the record, and also ourselves just as regular humans, that as crazy as it gets, sometimes stuff’s just okay, for a minute. And in those little Okay minutes, you should take credit for it, you should give credit for it, you should try to pause your heartbeat just for a second. And it was a really calming and therapeutic thing to do to say, tonight, I wish I could just stand still, for no other reason than because look at those stars. Just to appreciate that, like everybody’s doing okay, Betty’s asleep, Patience got adopted… by a meth head, but that’s okay. Patti chose not to swallow pills to go to sleep and Betty decided not to drink too much tonight. Sometimes even though we’re a disaster, we’re also okay!”
The whole record plays like a movie in your head as you listen to it, you can see the characters and if you close your eyes you can feel them too. It’s like you’re a part of Lindeville yourself! To successfully execute the music videos and any future film that could potentially be made from the concept of this record, they began to form back stories for their characters. “We were trying to figure out how to dress Caylee Hammack as a character from Lindeville, and we decided that she’s Lynette, now Lynette only appears in the song ‘If These Dogs Can Talk’. And all we know about her is that she owns a dog that is poodle-esque that she carries around in a handbag all the time.”
A backstory began to form, “She’s from a very strict religious background, her family had a little bit of money, they were comfortable, and they owned the diner. And they were so strict that Lynette kind of felt really held back her whole life. There were girls that she would really want her mom to hire for the diner that her mom called trashy. So when her mother passed away she went out and bought a strip club. So now we know exactly how to dress, Caylee Hammack, and it needs to be something that looks really well put together. But if she moves wrong, it’s a little revealing, that encapsulates the rebellion. So as we’re collecting these little tidbits, I think if there was a screenplay, or a musical we’d have enough notes, at least to get in the way of screenplay writers.”
Even the big purple dinosaur sign got his own back story! “The purple dinosaurs’ name is Brutus. There was this guy in town who was a handyman, and his name was Ronnie. He was over at this elderly gentleman’s house fixing the sink. This guy’s name is Pete and he’ll pop up in a song called ‘Play Ball’. He offered Ronnie 50 bucks for fixing the sink. Ronnie says, No, I just want to know, what’s the big purple dinosaur in your garage and the gentleman tells him, I was a set designer for children’s programmes for PBS from the years 1961 to 1968. That purple dinosaur, his name is Brutus, and I was able to sneak him into most of the children’s programming during that time. So when I left that company, I kept the one prop. Ronnie’s response is, I won’t take your money but I will take your dinosaur and take care of him. Then he opens a pawn shop and uses the purple dinosaur to be a point of pride and a point of attraction.”
McBryde and her friends are on the same wavelength and once again she grins, “Why does that story exist? We don’t know. But we were just texting. I was on my couch. She was like ‘and his name is Brutus and he was on children’s shows’ like it’d be important for the movie!”
As our conversation draws to a close,I was curious as to whether McBryde herself would choose to live in Lindeville if given half the chance, “I think I would, probably close to the ball park!” Before this record was even announced to the world, McBryde has already begun work on the next one, all whilst trying to figure out a way of touring Lindeville, supporting Dierks Bentley on his tour, and preparing to go out performing with Wynonna Judd as she embarks on The Judds tour, honouring her mother Naomi. Lindeville has taken Ashley McBryde on a journey and it’s the record of the year that will transport you and make you feel at home in that small town with the big purple dinosaur sign!